What begun with linen and wood in a grass field over a century ago has now developed into one of the most far-reaching and safest modes of transport. By connecting businesses and people around the world, aviation has contributed to global economic wealth development and broadened our understanding of, and appreciation for, different cultures and continents. In addition, modern conveniences such as international next-day deliveries would be rather limited without today’s truly global air connectivity. As such, air travel has grown to become an unmistakable component of modern society.
Given this pivotal role of air travel, however, we must recognize that these benefits do not come without their costs. Whilst passenger traffic experienced remarkable growth over the past decade, reaching a total of 1,034 million passengers traveling in the EU in 2019, the aviation industry is becoming subject to greater and more frequent scrutiny. This becomes particularly apparent as society’s awareness of how consumption and travel patterns cause damage for both people and the planet is continuously evolving. The vulnerabilities of air travel have been further amplified by the outbreak of the latest global health pandemic related to COVID-19. Persistent and emerging risks to human health, geopolitical fragmentation, and youth disillusionment, amongst other things, may therefore also negatively impact an individual’s safety perception of (air) travel.
To maintain the vast social and economic benefits that air travel brings to the global community, an optimal balance between short-term pressures and long-term vision needs to be found. This will require a system-wide transformation of the complex and intricate aviation network including, but not limited to, stakeholders such as operators, suppliers, governmental authorities, and policy integrators that contribute to air transport.
To account for these complexities, the “Future of Air Travel” project team drew upon a MACTOR* analysis to assess the sector’s most relevant objectives, which will be used to develop a flight path from 2020 up to 2050. By building upon both financial and non-financial considerations (as broadly indicated in the illustration below), these strategic objectives are poised to navigate air travel on a future-resilient path that is sustainable from an ecological, social and economic dimension. This may prove particularly valuable as social phenomena, such as flygskam (flight shame), and wider questions about future mobility will affect the aviation industry’s license to operate and grow.
Overall, these developments are taking the air transport industry into unchartered territory, with an urgent need to reflect upon what kind of aviation is needed and what kind of aviation the planet can sustain.
*Matrix of Alliances and Conflicts: Tactics, Objectives and Recommendations
 MIT International Center for Air Transportation – Analysis of the Interaction Between Air Transportation and Economic Activity
 European Commission – Air Transport Statistics
 World Economic Forum – Global Risks Report 2021
 The Conversation – Flight Shaming: How to Spread the Campaign that made Swedes give up Flying for Good
Coming up soon in our “Future of Air Travel” blogpost series: Change is in the Air – An Investigation into the Key Change Drivers of Civil Aviation in Europe